Supreme Court case on use of race in admissions could be landmark
The University of Texas at Austin admits some students based on a process that includes race as one factor – even though the school is already racially diverse. The Supreme Court will consider whether that process is justified.
(Page 2 of 2)
Ironically, the program relies on racially segregated housing patterns in the state and associated racially segregated community schools to assemble a diverse freshman class.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Race in America
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The program has increased diversity at UT, but school administrators have not been entirely satisfied.
In 2003, the US Supreme Court upheld an affirmative action plan at the University of Michigan Law School. In upholding that plan, the justices ruled 5 to 4 that Michigan’s use of race in admissions was justified in support of the school’s desire to achieve a “critical mass” of minority students that would help broaden and enrich the quality of education at the law school for all students.
Officials at Texas announced a similar goal and set up the secondary, race-conscious admissions process to supplement the race-neutral Top 10 Percent selection process.
Competition for admission within this secondary selection process is intense.
Mr. Garre defended the university’s modest use of race as necessary to achieve a “critical mass” of minority students that would allow all UT students to enjoy the full educational benefits of a diverse student body.
Admissions officials sought to assemble an incoming freshman class that reflected the racial makeup of the Texas population. In addition, officials announced their intention to pursue affirmative action until they were able to achieve racial and ethnic diversity in every class offered at the university.
Mr. Rein attacked the admissions process as an unconstitutional use of race designed to achieve a racial balance among certain favored minority groups in Texas rather than achieve the more ambitious goal of assembling a diverse group of students to boost the quality of education of all students.
“UT’s goal of using race in admissions to mirror the demographics of Texas is nothing more than racial balancing, which is patently unconstitutional,” Rein wrote.
“UT’s goal is not racial diversity to enhance the educational dialogue and exchange of ideas by keeping minority students from feeling isolated or like spokespersons for their race,” he said.
Garre says the university does not seek to achieve a precise match with minority demographics in Texas, rather the statistics are used to determine whether minorities are underrepresented at the school.
“Under-representation at a flagship state university like UT is naturally assessed by some attention to statewide numbers, and there is no constitutional requirement that such a university must blind itself to obvious evidence that particular minority groups are systematically faring poorly in admissions,” Garre wrote in his brief.
The 2003 high court ruling may now be in jeopardy, analysts say.
Two years after the Michigan decision, the key fifth vote in that case, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, retired. She was replaced by Justice Samuel Alito, who is believed to be a reliable vote against the use of race in college admissions.
The potential lineup of deciding justices is also complicated by the fact that Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the case because she worked on the issue while serving as President Obama’s solicitor general.
Lawyers on both sides are directing their arguments toward Justice Anthony Kennedy. In 2003, Justice Kennedy embraced the concept of diversity as providing a compelling interest to justify the use of race in admissions.
But it is unclear whether the Texas admissions plan comports with Kennedy’s view of when the use of race in college admissions crosses the line from acceptable to unconstitutional.
A decision in the case is expected by the end of the term in late June.